How horror movies helped my mom escape her own monster It took me years to fully realize why my mother loved her spooky books so much. Those horror stories gave my mother the courage to leave her abuser.

My mom passed down her love of horror to me — and a big lesson about courage

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For a little bit of joy these days, NPR is taking time to celebrate the things we are really into, like, you know, the stuff that keeps us going beyond the news. Well, for NPR's Nikki Jones, it's a good scare on the screen or on the page.

NIKKI JONES, BYLINE: At age 12, my girlfriends were living by Judy Blume, but I was reading Stephen King thrillers for the second time. The first time I got detention in high school was for reading Clive Barker's "The Damnation Game" instead of the assigned book. I thought I was slick, too, sliding my newest horror book into my loose-leaf notebook. I was so engrossed that I gasped in the middle of class, much to the dismay of my classmates and teacher. It was sort of hilarious. He took my book and handed me detention. I learned that he was a horror fan, and we chatted about our favorite authors. He ended up reading my book during detention and thanked me for turning him on to someone new.

My love of all things horror started when my mom let me read her spooky books - her endearing term for horror novels. I waited with bated breath for my mom to finish her latest spooky read because I knew that I got it next. I'd insert myself into this fictional world of monsters and demons, living in terror to turn the next page. My mother read "The Exorcist" by William Peter Blatty, and it definitely spooked her. I developed the courage to read it years later, then saw the movie against her wishes.


LINDA BLAIR: (As Regan MacNeil) Mother, mother, mother.

JONES: It was the scariest movie I've ever watched to this day and the only horror film I refuse to rewatch. It took me years to fully realize why my mother loved those spooky books so much. Those horror stories gave my mother the courage to leave her abuser. While my mother was putting on a brave face, she was dealing with her very own monster. I believe that her escapism into the horror genre allowed her to face her reality within a controlled environment.

She knew that her life wasn't in danger when she read these books. Her empathy towards the characters being chased by monsters and possessed by demons and the happy ending for these protagonists - well, sometimes - is what I believe allowed her to think that she, too, can escape the monster on his way home from work and have a happy ending. My mother found her strength through reading these books. She built courage, faced her fear and learned to fight. It was a form of catharsis for her, purge and purification - the purging of her negative emotions like fear, anxiety and low self-esteem; the purification of her newfound emotions of bravery and needing to annihilate her monster.

Novelists like Clive Barker and Stephen King dominated our little bookshelves, but it was a book by Jeffrey Konvitz that tilted me on my axis. "The Sentinel" was written in 1977. I remember my mother hiding it in the freezer because she didn't want me to read it. And, of course, I saw this as a challenge. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to read that book until I was an adult. However, I did something much worse. I saw the movie. This movie has everything - big movie stars like Cristina Raines, Burgess Meredith, Ava Gardner, Chris Sarandon and an adorably young Beverly D'Angelo. It had supermodels, penthouse apartments overlooking Central Park and a blind priest.


AVA GARDNER: (As Miss Logan) He's a priest. He's kind of senile. He just sits by the window. He's blind.

CRISTINA RAINES: (As Alison Parker) Blind? Well, then, what does he look at?

JONES: And it had demons, both metaphorical and physical. This movie scared the bejesus out of me, and I wanted more. In the days before streaming, we would visit video stores to rent our movies. We had Blockbuster, Erol's Video and a ton of mom-and-pop shops. Every Friday, my mother and I would hit up these video stores for the best horror VHS tapes. She introduced me to movies like "Ghost Story," "Amityville Horror," "Re-Animator," "The Evil Dead" and so much more. I still watch these movies, typically in the early morning on the weekends while my husband and daughter are still sleeping. I think about my mother and feel a sense of calm and peace. I remember Bruce Campbell bringing her to tears through her laughter in "The Evil Dead."


BRUCE CAMPBELL: (As Ash Williams) Groovy.

JONES: When it's snowing outside, I'll watch "Ghost Story" because she and I both loved the beauty of the snow in the film.


ALICE KRIGE: (As Eva Galli) I will take you places where you have never been - the start. I will show you things that you have never seen. And I will see the life run out of you.

JONES: When I watch newer films, I think about her reactions if she were alive today. I believe that my mother would be the biggest Jordan Peele fan because of "Us." She'd probably check out "Hereditary" twice. "Speak No Evil" would leave her speechless. My mother passed down her love of horror to me. These books and films gave her courage, and she wanted me to live courageously. In her eyes, this genre would help her help me to be the strong and independent woman that I am today. She was right.

CHANG: That was NPR's vice president for change management and transformation, Nikki Jones.


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